Christian Reformed Classis Withdraws Ordination from Gay
In a surprise move at a meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East yesterday, Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church withdrew its request to extend the ministerial credentials of gay CRC minister Rev. Jim Lucas.
Lucas serves as chaplain of "As We ARE," a gay support group meeting at Eastern Avenue and affiliated with a network of similar gay support groups in the United States and Canada. Because the organization is not officially endorsed by the CRC as one to which a Christian Reformed minister can be called, Lucas is technically without call and Classis Grand Rapids East must annually renew his ministerial standing. Lucas last held a regular ministerial position in 1989.
In a prepared statement, Eastern Avenue pastor Rev. Mary Antonides said her elders met at the weekend when they learned Lucas' ministry had unanimously decided that "faithful, committed, same-sex unions can be an experience of God's grace and within God's will and should be affirmed by the Christian church."
"It is the opinion of the Consistory of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church that this decision on the part of AWARE prevents us from calling anyone to this ministry at this time," said Antonides.
The Eastern Avenue decision, made four days before classis while Lucas was out of state attending the baptism of a friend's child, put Lucas' ordination at risk and prompted an appeal by Lucas.
"Although I believe that faithful, committed, permanent same-sex unions can be an experience of God's grace and within God's will for those who find that they are not able to maintain a life of celibacy, I have always lived my own life in conformity to the CRC's pastoral advice that gay people remain celibate," said Lucas in a prepared statement read to classis. "I commit myself to continue to do so as long as I am an ordained minister in the CRC."
Lucas proposed that classis extend his credentials until next May rather than the customary one-year extension, thus "allowing classis to let my credentials lapse before synod, if you so choose, in order to spare our denominational assembly from a possibly contentious debate."
Lucas said in his appeal that Eastern Avenue's decision had "left much misunderstanding and hurt among everyone involved," and noted that classical endorsement of the Eastern Avenue action could create serious negative reaction against the Christian Reformed Church within the homosexual community.
"The lapsing of my credentials would likely lead to many gay members feeling despair about whether there is a place for them in the CRC," said Lucas. "Certainly classis does not want to compound the alienation which gay people already feel with respect to the church. Certainly it does not want, through an action such as lapsing my credentials, to drive gay people further out of the church into the arms of unchristian, dangerous, and often deadly values found in parts of the gay community."
Deviating from his prepared text, Lucas noted he was by no means the only Christian Reformed minister to hold similar views, citing retired Fuller Theological Seminary professor Dr. Lewis Smedes as an example of a CRC minister who "holds a position virtually identical to mine," and urged classis to think about the consequences of doing nothing. "People I know, people we all know, are getting sick and dying because the church is not providing ministry in this area," said Lucas.
After hours of debate, classis finally voted to take an action which it hoped would offend neither supporters nor opponents of Lucas' continued ordination.
Rather than extending Lucas' credentials, declaring they had lapsed, or letting them expire automatically, classis adopted a motion to "withhold action on Jim's request without prejudice until the January meeting," with an explanatory note that Lucas retained his ordination until classis completed its action on Lucas' request.
Lucas said he was "very encouraged" by the classis vote.
"All I wanted was for classis to show some willingness to struggle with how to minister to gay and lesbian people," said Lucas. "It was clear that the folks in classis are dealing with this issue with grace and Christian compassion. Those of us who are gay have to struggle and it's good to see they are willing to share that struggle with us."
Lucas said he hoped to "work things out" with his own congregation, Eastern Avenue, prior to the next classis meeting.
According to the president of classis, the January decision may focus less on Lucas' views of same-sex unions than on whether he has a formal call to a ministerial position.
"You can't continue forever; it's been a long time with Jim," said Dr. William Vanden Bosch. "He has said, 'I think I need to look for Plan B,' and we are saying, 'You have until January to work this out.'"
Used with the permission of the United Reformed News Service.
©1997 United Reformed News Service